States introduce bills to restrict surveys

High school journalists and advisers in Colorado are relieved.

They managed to insert a provision into a bill exempting some studentjournalists from a requirement that school officials receive permissionfrom students’ parents before administering any surveys or assessments.

The original version of the bill did not contain an exception for studentjournalists. However, after student press advocates learned of the bill,they lobbied to insert a provision that exempts them. They feared thatthe law had the potential to restrict student press freedoms by limitingwhom students could interview and the issues they could cover.

The bill, which was signed by Gov. Bill Owens in May, took effect Aug.2.

Sen. Pat Pascoe, D-Denver, introduced the amendment exempting high schooljournalists from receiving the consent of students’ parents if they areworking under the supervision of an adviser and the survey is voluntary.

Some say the change does not go far enough. Nathan Lake, a residentof Englewood Colo, said, in a letter to the editor of the Rocky MountainNews that the bill neglects students working on underground or non-schoolsponsored publications.

“[Underground] staffs work without an official adult adviser,” Blackwrote.

SPLC Executive Director Mark Goodman said that although concern abouthow schools will enforce these survey restrictions is justified, the lawsdo not apply to students.

“These laws limit the actions of schools and school employees. Students,especially those acting on their own, have a First Amendment right to interviewand survey other students,” Goodman said.

A similar bill before the New Jersey legislature does not contain anyexemption for student journalists.

HB 2351, which passed the State Assembly on June 5 by a 55-16 vote andis currently in the Senate, would also require school districts to obtainparental consent before administering most types of surveys.

Assemblyman Scott Garrett introduced the bill in response to parentcomplaints about a 156-question survey, distributed by the Rigdewood schooldistrict, probing students’ sexual behavior, drug use and mental stability.

Unlike Colorado’s version, Garrett’s bill does not make an exceptionfor the student press.

“It sounds like it might affect them, and I can’t say whether or nothe had that in mind,” said a Garrett aide.